At least 10 U.S. Catholic bishops have signed a statement supporting the Tyler Clementi Foundation in standing up for at-risk LGBT youth in the United States and speaking out against bullying directed at them.
"As we see in the Gospels, Jesus Christ taught love, mercy and welcome for all people, especially for those who felt persecuted or marginalized in any way; and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that LGBT people are to be treated with 'respect, compassion and sensitivity,'" the bishops said in a statement released by the foundation Jan. 25.
The New York-based foundation is named for Tyler Clementi, a victim of anti-gay cyberbullying, who committed suicide Sept. 22, 2010, at age 18. After his death, his family created the foundation to end online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities.
"All people of goodwill should help, support, and defend LGBT youth -- who attempt suicide at much higher rates than their straight counterparts, who are often homeless because of families who reject them, who are rejected, bullied and harassed, and who are the target of violent acts at alarming rates," the bishops said.
"The Catholic Church values the God-given dignity of all human life and we take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you," they said. "Most of all, know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side."
Signing the joint statement were: Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey; Archbishop John C. Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico; Bishop Steven R. Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming; Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego; Bishop John E. Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky; Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of Tucson, Arizona; Auxiliary Bishop John P. Dolan of San Diego; retired Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, New Mexico; and retired Auxiliary Bishops Denis J. Madden of Baltimore and Thomas J. Gumbleton of Detroit.
Jane Clementi, Tyler's mom, who is co-founder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, said: "This is a great beginning."
"I am very grateful to the Catholic bishops who have signed the declaration and are courageously adding their voices to an effort to show God’s love by opposing any violence, harassment or bullying behavior against the most vulnerable among us," she said in a statement.
"With this groundbreaking statement, these bishops are saying that all God's children, including our LGBT+ siblings, deserve kindness, respect and compassion," she added.
Clementi told Catholic News Service in an email that the foundation hopes "more bishops will agree to use their voice and add their name to our statement.
"This initiative is focused on leadership within the Catholic Church," she said. "We are hopeful that this is the time to find common ground and have conversations with Catholic leaders, so that every youth sitting in their pews knows they are loved and are not alone, and to make sure families understand that they do not have to choose between their child and their church home."
Jan. 25 was chosen as the day to release the statement, she added, because it is the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, "who had a change of heart and mind as he went from an opponent of Christians to one of the church's greatest leaders."
"I am most hopeful that now is the time for the church's leadership to have a Damascus road experience," Clementi added. "Change is possible. It is always the perfect time to engage in conversation and to show the love and hope of Christ into this world."
In a Jan. 26 statement, the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests applauded the bishops for signing the statement; Archbishop Wester is the group's episcopal moderator.
"We priests and our friends in the AUSCP are called to minister to all of God’s children," said Father Greg Barras, chair of the association's leadership team. "Our pastoral experience has been one of great suffering with the pain inflicted by some in our church and society upon the vulnerable among us."
The Catholic Church says homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered," but the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Father Barras noted, teaches that those who identify as LGBT "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided."
In a documentary last fall, Pope Francis said: "Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."